May 12, 1965: Killebrew belts two homers, including game-winner in eighth
When the Minnesota Twins headed to Metropolitan Stadium to play the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday, May 12, 1965, they had reason to be excited. The previous night, in the first contest of a three-game set with the visitors from Southern California, the Twins won in exciting fashion. With one out in the bottom of the ninth inning and the score tied 2-2, slugging first baseman Harmon Killebrew sent a bullet back to the mound that ricocheted off the leg of Angels starter Dean Chance into center field. His walk-off hit drove in Tony Oliva and gave the Twins their fourth consecutive win. More importantly, manager Sam Mele’s squad improved its record to 15-7, one game in front of the Chicago White Sox and 1½ games ahead of the Angels.
Despite the loss, the Los Angeles Angels (the club officially changed its name to the California Angels on September 2, 1965, in anticipation of its move into the newly constructed Anaheim Stadium) had been playing their best ball of the season. After a slow start, they had won 11 of 15 games for skipper Bill Rigney, who had guided the club since its admission to the AL during the expansion year of 1961.
A sparse crowd of 10,711 showed up on a beautiful, 64-degree evening at Metropolitan Stadium, located in Bloomington, about 11 miles due south of downtown Minneapolis. The Twins’ faithful were treated to another exciting come-from-behind victory.
The game got under way when Jim “Mudcat” Grant took the mound. The hard-throwing 29-year-old right-hander had thrived since the Twins acquired him from the Cleveland Indians the previous season at the trading deadline, winning 14 of 23 decisions, including a clean 3-0 slate in ’65. The Angels’ light-hitting right fielder and former Rookie of the Year Award winner (1958), Albie Pearson, put LA on the board first against Grant with a home run in the first inning. Grant struggled with the gopher ball in 1965, surrendering a league-high 34; however, he still managed to lead the circuit in wins (21) and shutouts (6). The Angels increased their lead to 2-0 in the third inning on Jose Cardenal’s sacrifice fly which scored Bobby Knoop, who had doubled and stolen third.
The Twins’ home-run-bashing offense (they led the AL with 221 round-trippers in 1964) did not intimidate the Angels’ 20-year-old rookie southpaw, Rudy May, making just his fifth career start. A hard thrower who suffered from control problems, May had whiffed 10 in his major-league debut just about three weeks earlier, and sported an impressive 2-1 record and a 1.73 ERA. He retired the first seven batters he faced before yielding a walk and two singles, including one off the bat of second baseman Jerry Kindall that drove in catcher Jerry Zimmerman for the Twins’ first run.
The Angels maintained a 2-1 lead until the sixth inning, when first baseman Joe Adcock lined a two-out single to left field, scoring Cardenal. Still an offensive threat despite his bum knees, the 37-year-old Adcock had led the Angels in round-trippers with the 21 the previous year (even though he played home games in a pitcher’s paradise, Dodger Stadium) and became just the 23rd big leaguer to hit 300 home runs. Killebrew blasted a home run, his fourth of the season, in the bottom of the sixth to pull Minnesota back to within one. The “Killer’s” smash was music to the Twins’ ears. The 28-year-old slugger had clouted 48, 45, and 49 home runs in the three prior seasons to lead the AL in that department each year. However, he had an unexpected power outage to start the 1965 season, going homerless in his first 12 games. “When Harmon Killebrew’s bulging forearms snapped his bat through the strike zone and made full contact,” wrote the Star-Tribune years later, “there was nothing else like it in baseball.”1 Standing just 5-feet-11, Killebrew generated his power from a short, compact swing.
The Twins entered the bottom of the eighth inning trailing 3-2. Pinch-hitter Frank Kostro drew a one-out walk from reliever Bob Lee, who had taken over from May to start the seventh. Lee was no slouch; as a rookie in 1964, the hard-throwing righty posted a 1.51 ERA in 137 innings. He went on to earn a berth on the AL All-Star team in 1965, and posted similar numbers (1.92 ERA in 131 innings). Lee registered the second out by striking out Oliva, who had led the AL in batting as a rookie the previous season with a .323 average but had been mired in a slump thus far in 1965, entering the game batting only .267. Next up was Killebrew, who lived for these situations. The stocky Idahoan with a rapidly receding hairline launched an estimated 450-foot blast that cleared the center-field fence and gave the Twins the lead, 4-3. “That was no pop-gun Harmon Killebrew used on the Angels,” wrote Dick Couch of the AP.2
Righty Al “Red” Worthington, a 36-year-old journeyman, relieved Grant to start the eighth inning and held the Angels scoreless in the final two frames to pick up the victory. The game, which was finished in 2 hours and 15 minutes, was typical for the mid-1960s – good pitching and low scoring. Each team managed just seven hits, three of which were home runs. There were no double plays and no errors.
The Twins are “going like gangbusters,” wrote George C. Langford of UPI.3 Minnesota won its fifth consecutive game, but the club’s lead in the standings shrank by a half-game in light of the Chicago White Sox’ doubleheader sweep of the Kansas City A’s.
1 La Velle E. Neal, III, “Killebrew was ‘Paul Bunyan with a uniform on,” (Minneapolis) StarTribune, May 18, 2011. startribune.com/sports/twins/122004519.html.
2 Dick Couch, Associated Press, “Killebrew Swings Hot Bat for Twins,” The Daily Reporter (Dover, Ohio), May 13, 1965, 19.
3 George C. Langford, United Press International, “Killebrew’s Muscle Returns to Form; Bosox Keep Yanks Sinking,” The Daily Register (Harrisburg, Illinois), May 13, 1965, 14.